Pregnancy can be an immeasurably satisfying event in your life, but most mothers-to-be can also expect some inconvenience and outright terror along the way. The question of what to eat is a prime example. Many expectant mothers are startled to find that innocuous foods like deli meats should be avoided. However, if your day is incomplete without that turkey panini on your favorite bread, take heart. You may not have to avoid it for nine months.
Listeriosis and Cold Cuts
Deli cold cuts, including turkey, are frequently singled out as a high-risk food for pregnant women. Deli meats and other pre-cooked meat products such as hot dogs may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes, which causes a disease called listeriosis. Healthy, vigorous adults experience listeriosis as a mild, flu-like illness, but for pregnant women it can be more serious. Pregnancy suppresses the immune system, which can increase the impact of an infection. More importantly, the L. monocytogenes bacteria can cross the placenta and cause illness in your unborn baby.
Infants are at especially high risk for listeriosis, because their immune systems are still unformed and unprepared to deal with a major infection. If you eat foods containing Listeria, you may barely notice the symptoms. Your baby may not be so lucky. Prenatal listeriosis can cause a number of problems, including premature delivery, miscarriage and stillbirth. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 22 percent of women who contract listeriosis during pregnancy lose their baby. Pregnant women account for 17 percent of listeriosis cases in the United States.
What to Do
This doesn't mean you have to give up eating turkey sandwiches while you're pregnant, it simply means you need to be more selective. Packaged sliced turkey from a reputable manufacturer is safer than deli-sliced turkey, because it is handled less. Roasting a turkey breast at home is even safer, as long as you've cooked it to the USDA's recommended safe internal temperature of 160 F before removing it from the oven. However, even deli-sliced meats can be safe if they're heated to 165 F or higher.
There are several ways to heat your deli meats to make them safe, including steaming and microwaving. However, if you are partial to panini, your panini press can also serve that purpose. If you press your sandwich long enough for the meat to be heated through and steaming, it should be safe. If you own a probe-type digital thermometer, you can check for yourself. Sanitize the probe with a mild solution of 1 tablespoon bleach in 3 cups of water, then dry it and put it in the middle of your sandwich. Cook the sandwich until the thermometer shows 160 F. To be safe, always consult your doctor before eating turkey or other lunch meats during pregnancy.